Dance with no disguises
Rasika Khanna's Bharatanatyam resonates with the convictions imbibed from her guru Balasaraswati.
In this age when classical solo dancers often try out unorthodox adventurism in terms of cannonball rhythmic virtuosity, aiming more for the applause than the gut, Rasika Khanna's Bharatanatyam recital at the Habitat was almost anachronistic in its lean simplicity. No trendy free-floating deconstructions or culture of indulgence here - no rhythm tottering on a nervous blade.
Speaking to Rasika reveals this espousal of old values stemming from a deep conviction, free from any obsessive stance, of having to guard the traditional turf, come what may. Not one to mince words, in a matter-of-fact tone, the dancer refers to her aesthetic, classical discernment as being shaped during her childhood when she entered Bharatanatyam, by none other than Balasaraswati, who initiated her.
"For me Bala is my ideal, my great inspiration - something going toward my soul. Consciously or unconsciously, all she told me resonates in my consciousness. I remember I once danced in Chennai, with orange flowers in my hair. Bala met me after the performance backstage and taunted, `What is this - a fire extinguisher? White Jasmine is best.' She always urged simplicity and felt that the dancer should not draw attention to her persona through flashy getup."
What about her own dance? - "Showing maximum with minimum was her way. So in dance, that is my goal. How far I succeed I don't know. I dislike flamboyance."
Rasika admits that for the larger performance area the dancer today has to deal with, some rhythmic excitement through long jatis and movements through which one can cover stage space is called for. "I do some of that."
Not one to push
Living in South Mumbai "where little happens", Rasika manages to see the odd dance programme in the Matunga/Dadar South Indian circles "though nobody has introduced me to these sabhas and I am not the type to push myself and demand programmes."
Being robustly rooted to the old values is not tantamount to a fossilised outlook as Rasika makes clear.
"This comes from introspection - going into oneself and reflecting on the dance and what it does to you. It is an integrated discipline. I have the music teacher coming home to teach, the yoga teacher also comes. All these other disciplines help the internalisation process. I practise religiously - daily."
Rasika continues, "I don't like kitty parties. The evenings however are spent in quite a bit of socialising, all quite formal" - thanks to the official demands of the husband who is Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Dispelling any wrong impression of a dancer locked up in her own world where no outside influence can penetrate, Rasika talks of her interactive sessions with fellow dancers like Deepak, Prakriti, Sandhya.
"We meet every now and then and give one another ideas. Bade log tho chale gaye. The great old giants are gone. But each of us has some good inputs to make in these sessions where we even choreograph new numbers - for everyone comes from a background of erudite training. So a lot of good work comes out of all these meetings. And I still interact with my gurus like Adyar Lakshman and Kalanidhi Narayanan.I went recently to Arunachal Pradesh with taped music - reaching out to people who know little about the dance - and they just loved it. I like to do that sort of thing".
Judging from the post-recital remarks - "At last some pure Bharatanatyam with no disguises!" - hiding erudition in seeming simplicity and understated austerity still has takers, even if not too many.
But for those with conviction, the old values bestow on this art form a staying power and ability to successfully communicate with the world of today
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu